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After arriving in Phnom Penh, I quickly learned that one of its charms – among other things – is how inexpensive the alcohol can be. This is both good and bad for me.

As I wrote earlier in this blog, I joined a gym here, The Place, so I wouldn’t have to stop my rather loose 24 Hour Fitness routine that I established back in the States. Problem is, with the alcohol being so cheap and all, after I work out during the day, at night, I end up imbibing all the calories I burned off in all manner of sugary, frothy, sometimes pink drinks, all of which I can get for less than $5, and, if it’s happy hour, less than $3. Beers are even cheaper, often going for 75 cents at happy hour.

Yeah. Kinda awesome for the pocketbook and (mom, don’t read this next part of the sentence) if I want to get tipsy on the cheap. (Note to my readers: My mum says that real ladies don’t drink in public). However, I blame alcohol for the fact that, despite working out really hard four days a week (sometimes more) and eating like a sad, sad bird, I still do not have the child-like limbs and waistlines of many of the women here. For serious, next to them, I feel like an obese giant.

It doesn’t help that every frakking time I pick up a small blouse or dress in a shopping mall the sales lady smiles at me and says “We have bigger size!” S’truth. The other day, when I was trying to buy a small T-shirt for myself, the lady asked me if it was a gift for someone. When I said that the shirt was for me, she gave me this whole “child, who the hell are you kidding?” look then suggested that even the medium would still be too small. I know that she meant no harm by it, and, seriously, I know I am not the tiniest person, but I am mos def not a large.

I smiled and said thank you for the suggestion, but inside I told the biatch that I wasn’t buying her ugly shirt. Then I went to a local bar and threw back a couple more drinks.

Note: The photo is of Street 278’s Elsewhere Bar, where I like to read, jump on the Internet, and enjoy a glass of something in the evenings after work and the gym.

Photo: Julie Anne Ines / Flickr “Chronicles in Cambodia”

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Besides documenting the places I’ve been to and the things I’ve eaten in Cambodia, I’ve also been taking photos of all the cats that I’ve tried to make friends with. The thing about the cats here, however, is that they are not the happy, playful, sometimes disdainful kitty cats you see gracing the likes of I Can Has Cheezburger or Cute Overload.

Nope. These are fierce, fearful, feral felines that may or may not bite your nose off if you get too close to them and if they get the chance. Mind you, I don’t think they’re bad kitties. I just have a feeling that they, like many of the children I’ve come across here, don’t know what it’s like to be cuddled, much less loved. Thinking of pulling an Angelina Jolie and adopting these cats and several children.

Here is a cat looking wistfully at the rain, dreaming of things only kitty cats dream about:

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Here is a tiny cat waiting for his mom:

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Here is a tailless cat chilling at the Equinox bar, hoping that someone will pet him and that the drunkards will not step on him destroying what’s left of his stub of a tail:

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And here is a cat that kept jumping into my lap even after I repeatedly put it back down on the floor. Here’s the cat giving me his “I may or may not eat your nose” look:

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Photos: Julie Anne Ines / Flickr “Chronicles in Cambodia” (New photos uploaded!)

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As promised, here are photos of The Place, a nine-story building that houses a gym on the eighth, seventh and sixth floors. In addition to a cool gym, The Place also boasts one of the best views of the Independence Monument on Sihanouk Blvd. — the tall monument that you see in the background of photos two and three — that I’ve seen in Phnom Penh. If you work out during the day, you can see the tuktuks, SUVs, motos and bike riders negotiating traffic below. At night, you can see the monument lit up in lights and hear the honking of horns.

If gorgeous views aren’t your thing, you can hang out in the Internet cafe on the sixth floor, check your email on some nice desktop Macs, and order a juice or coffee drink, or hang out in the lobby on the eighth floor and watch Cartoon Network on the flatscreen televisions nested in the ceiling.

Apparently, the building is somewhat exclusive, as the gym is the one of choice for some of the wealthier folks here. A two-month membership was fairly affordable, but check out the warnings posted next to the elevator. You can’t bring your gun, your bodyguard, boxer briefs or your Doberman. Fancy.

I also noticed that you can’t bring a camera. Whoops.

Photo: Julie Anne Ines / Flickr

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4638879924_56da5df65a_mChronicles in Cambodia: Dispatch 2

For my first full day in Phnom Penh I decided to hit up the spots that most visitors to the city pass through, including the Royal Palace, the National Museum, Wat Phnom, the Russian Market and the Tuol Sleng Genocide museum. And while touring the city on foot is certainly doable, I decided to hire a tuktuk – a four-wheel, shaded cart hooked onto a motorcycle – for the day to avoid becoming roadkill on Phnom Penh’s busy streets, which could best be described as ordered chaos. (Click on the photo to the left to be taken directly to my Flickr photoset)

When I first arrived here, I was struck at just how many motorcyclists there were in the city as they swarmed around and sped past the lumbering van that picked me up from the airport like schools of fish around a large, slow whale. Motorcyclists and drivers alike are not afraid to go against traffic and edge into busy intersections where motorcyles and other vehicles meet you head on. There are traffic signals, but, based on the number of people who actually stop, they are more of a suggestion than a command; if you can make it without killing anyone, go for it! Luckily, I got a good driver, Mr. Black, who knew his way around the city and who was an assertive and fearless driver.

The Royal Palace

The Royal Palace in Phnom Penh is the center of royalty for the kingdom of Cambodia and was my first stop on my day-long adventure. I had seen pictures of the palace in guidebooks and on the Interwebz, but seeing the majestic and boldly colored buildings and manicured grounds was nothing short of spectacular. Some parts of the palace are closed off to the public, but what can be seen is still worth the visit. It’s also a good spot to run into other tourists, who you can pick out because of their hiking boots and Lonely Planet guides. One thing I’ve noticed in my short time in Phnom Penh is that the tourists/aid workers that it attracts are very friendly, worldly and socially conscious individuals. That includes an NGO worker from Belgium who I met at the Royal Palace. He said that he and his girlfriend worked for an NGO in Siem Riep and were, like me, planning on seeing the sights in addition to continuing their work in the city.

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The National Museum

The National Museum was my next stop. The building that houses the museum collection wraps around a small courtyard and is very similar in style to the buildings at the Royal Palace. The collection itself hosts a wide variety of stone statues of Buddhist and Hindu deities and thousand-year-old artifacts from Cambodia’s long and storied history.

Wat Phnom

Wat Phnom is a temple in the middle of the city and was my third stop on the trip. The temple is actually in the middle of a large park, where families spend leisurely time in the afternoon, much like the parks back home. Unlike the parks back home, however, you don’t just see human families making use of the open space. If you look up into the trees, or on the hillsides of the temple, you may just spot families of monkeys, just like I did.

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Russian Market

If you’re looking for cheap clothes shopping or for a knickknack to bring home, the labyrinthine Russian Market is a great place to browse through. You can spend hours looking through the stalls upon stalls of clothing, tchotskys, bags, jewelry, art, and god knows what else is hiding beneath the tin roofs. If you’re hungry or thirsty, there are also drink and food vendors centered in one part of the market. It was while sitting down to a glass of sweet coffee that I met two human rights workers and another tourist from Belgium. Again, super nice people who did not hesistate to chat with a newcomer to the city.

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Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

A visit to Phnom Penh is not complete without a visit to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, which was my last stop on my tour through the city. The four buildings that make up the museum, once home to a children’s school, played host to the horrors of the Khmer Rouge during its blood-soaked reign of terror in the late 1970s. I was privileged to have a tour guide who was not only knowledgeable; she was one of the survivors of the regime. According to her, her family was marched from Phnom Penh to Svay Rieng, a city in the southeastern part of Cambodia. She and several of her family members were able to cross the border into Vietnam. Her father, a sister and a brother were not so lucky. Unlike the families who can find evidence of the ultimate fates of their relatives as documented by the soldiers in Tuol Sleng, and whose photos are on display there, she still to this day does not know the exact fates of her family members. Even now, almost thirty years later, she still tears up when telling her story and telling the story of many others who were tortured to death by the Khmer Rouge.

Many of the rooms in the museum are a grim reminder of those horrors: the walls are unadorned save for a large black and white photo of one of the Khmer Rouge’s victims – this one had his throat cut, this one’s face was bashed in by a shovel – and a metal bed frame. Other rooms have been preserved to show the layout of the small cells. My tour guide said that often two people would be placed in these cells, and would often die there. At one point, she looked down into a cell, spotted a deep red spot, and tried to scrape the spot vigorously with her shoe: “We clean here often, but there is still blood. So much blood, that we can’t clean.”

After the tour, I ran into the Belgian NGO worker who I met at the Royal Palace and another traveler from Southern California who also happened to be from Orange County. The traveler, who was planning on biking around Southeast Asia for a full three months, said that he hoped to raise money and kick off aid projects in the region, or wherever else needed help. Check out his website here.

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Visit my Chronicles in Cambodia Flickr photoset.

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Chronicles in Cambodia: Dispatch 1

After almost a full day of travel that included a 13 and a half hour flight from Los Angeles to Taipei, a three-hour stopover in Taipei, and a three and a half hour flight from Taipei to Phnom Penh, I have finally arrived in the hotel room that will be my home for the next eight weeks while I intern with the Open Society Justice Initiative.

To say that it’s a bit of a shock and a bit surreal to be here after the past three weeks would be an understatement. During the week before and the two weeks during finals, there were family issues that needed attention. Then there were the finals themselves, including one hellish property final. After finals, when you’d think one could finally breath a sign of relief, there were more issues that came up. And before I could remind myself to keep breathing, I ended up flying here.

I’m exhausted, and, as a result, a wee bit overwhelmed, but that does not mean that I’m not excited about this new adventure. I even got the adventure pants (read “hiking pants” in non-Julie speak) to prove it. I met some really nice people so far, including a man who is taking his daughters to visit his country for the first time, a graduate student from northern California who will be in Phnom Penh for 10 weeks with some of his classmates working on an economics project, and a young lady from the Bay Area who will be traveling Cambodia and other Asian countries with her friend.

And I took some pictures! Have a look (click on photo to get taken to Flickr photoset)!

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